A number of recent articles suggest that long-tenured pastors are not the most effective revitalization leaders, which may generally be true. My advice to the long-tenured revitalizer is – don’t listen to those who say you cannot lead this! Leading an effort like this can be done, but it is certainly a challenge. The problem with long-tenured leaders is that very little of what these leaders do is new and fresh to their churches. Church members have seen it all before, they have heard it all before, and very little that comes from a long-tenured leader is new. Revitalization leaders are attempting to bring something fresh and new to a situation that needs fresh and new. As a pastor of twenty-two years in the same church, I have a few suggestions, which I believe are critical to the success of revitalization ministry.
Freshness Counts. Careful attention to sermon preparation is vital in staying fresh before your congregation. Your church knows all your stories, your illustrations, your sayings, and even your jokes, so you must work hard to develop newness in these areas. Over time, ministers can become a little sloppy, lazy, or unimaginative when writing and delivering their sermons. Do people notice how hard you work at your preaching? I am not talking about people complimenting you for delivering a good Sunday sermon; I am asking you if people see the passionate pursuit of God, the thoroughness of your study, and your effort in communicating the biblical application? What would happen if we, as ministers, would continue to improve in our ministries?
Work on your skill set. Revitalization leaders constantly develop their leadership abilities by improving themselves. Recently, I received some training in the area of coaching, which is a vital part of pastoral development in church revitalization. A coach helps the revitalizer to concentrate on areas that need improvement, develop a strategic plan for revitalization, and stay on the task of implementing that plan. The coaching training I received helped me to develop my listening skills and my ability to ask good questions to those I coach in revitalization. A careful study of the construction of the Old Testament tabernacle reminds us that God uses skillful people in His important work (see Exodus 36).
The Stalemate Fate. When you know just how far you can push your church, and your church knows how far they can push you, a stalemate occurs, which will test the progress of your church’s ministry and will test the love you have for each other. Only with a renewed vision, an acute awareness of your calling, and a desire to be obedient to the Lord, can you work through the stalemate. God has placed the pastor into the life of the church to move the church forward to accomplish its mission, His mission. The pastor’s relationship with the Lord supersedes the pastor’s relationship with his church. At times, the pastor may need to test the boundaries of his church’s love. Remember, God did not call you to be the Cruise Director of the Love Boat; He called you to be the captain of a battleship with an important mission. He called you to lead your crew into the battle!
The Fear Factor. I know that some of you are thinking that if you push too hard, you could be fired, but remember, pastors serve at the pleasure of the King of Kings; you work for Him. God put you where you are to be the shepherd and He can keep you there. Your sheep want to follow a Spirit-led, confident shepherd. When you are following your shepherd, you really don’t have to worry about your church following theirs! As a long-tenured pastor, you know your sheep will follow you. Fear keeps us from pursuing worthy goals and our Lord’s calling. If you commit enough mistakes, you will experience another problem…
The Cumulative Mistake Factor. One unfortunate result of being a long-tenured pastor is that your mistakes become cumulative; in essence, they all add together. If you serve as the pastor of a church for twenty years, you will make a lot of mistakes! Sadly, over time all those mistakes begin to add up. Let me suggest this – get very good at admitting your mistakes and asking for forgiveness. But apologizing for mistakes is not enough, we must learn from our mistakes, rectify them, and if necessary, even make restitution for them. If you do not learn from your mistakes, then over the course of many years, the people that you lead will begin to notice something alarming…
The Repeating Pattern. If you continually make the same mistakes again and again, the people in your church will begin to recognize certain patterns in your ministry and in the life of the church. Certain patterns begin to emerge which become obvious to our church members, who begin to recognize a cause-and-effect pattern in your behavior. They would say, “the last two times we did x, we saw y happen to our church.” They are probably correct in their observations. If you make the same mistakes, you will certainly get a similar series of outcomes. This is where newness and learning from your mistakes come back into the process of leading the church in revitalization.
How Is Your Fight? Someone once said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog!” Nothing could be truer for church revitalization. Perhaps the biggest reason for the lack of success with long-tenured revitalizers is the amount of commitment and energy required for the project. If church revitalization were a boxing match, it would probably be a fifteen rounder! Church Revitalization requires dogged determination, and those who are patient plodders are ideally suited to the task.
Long-tenured revitalizers may be a vast, untapped resource if they can be properly motivated to get into the fight! These individuals have years of experience in pastoral ministry, which is an incredible asset in revitalization! They also have acquired wisdom, developed relationships, have a network of resources, as well as unmatched insight into the inner workings of their churches. Many of these long-tenured pastors need a rest, a sabbatical, or a retreat to pray about their next 1,000 days (the minimum necessary for a revitalization project). There are certain obstacles to overcome, to be sure, but I believe we should engage these amazing leaders and invite them into the process. Perhaps, if they are refreshed, if they listen to the Lord, and if they are properly encouraged, they may hear God’s new calling on their lives – to lead revitalization right where they are.
Dr. Terry Rials has served as the Senior Pastor of Crestview Baptist Church in Oklahoma City for twenty-two years. He also serves as the Church Revitalization Team Leader for Capital Baptist Association. Terry is a frequent conference leader on church revitalization and renewal as well as one of the RENOVATE National Church Revitalization Conference speakers for 2013 & 2014. You can contact Dr. Rials at firstname.lastname@example.org for information regarding his speaking schedule.